Today I offer you a persuasion analysis from the chapter titled “Goals Versus Systems” in Scott Adams’s book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.
I began following Adams in August of 2015 to learn more about persuasion. Since then I have learned incredible things about changing peoples’ minds. For most people, some of it is a bit scary to realize. And while I am not a trained hypnotist like he is, I am confident I can change your mind about some surprising things, if I want to.
In this post, I will analyze two paragraphs of his book and highlight the parts I recognize as persuasion. Note that I will post this whether I find nothing, or see it lathered on thick.
From “Goals Versus Systems”:
“Throughout my career I’ve had my antennae up, looking for examples of people who use systems as opposed to goals. In most cases, as far as I can tell, the people who use systems do better. The systems driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways.
To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal — if you reach it at all — feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of near continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game.”
First, the visuals:
“I’ve had my antennae up,” and “lose ten pounds” are both visual ideas for our minds to grab onto. That makes them easier to understand and easier to remember. You could argue that ten pounds is a measurement, but most of us remember wanting to lose some weight at one time or another. That’s visual and immediately associates with a feeling. And since we remember ourselves having that desire, it also involves…
Adams makes a big identity play at the opening of the second paragraph. The systems way of thinking is new for the reader, so we can’t identify with “people who use systems” in the first paragraph. But you know who we don’t want to identify with?
Losers. And Adams links the goal-oriented way of thinking in a way that stuns some first time readers, or causes them to laugh out loud. (For science, kindly let me know if you did either of those two things. Or if you didn’t, tell me whatever your physiological reaction was.)
We are generally trained from birth to accept the believe that goals are a key element of success. The statement, “Goals are for losers,” kicks so forcefully against it that your mind cannot handle this particular arrangement of words. Until now, the two ideas had probably never sparked together in your mind this way.
I bet you don’t recognize any shift yet. You might have noticed some curiosity, and if not, you will feel it later. Either one is okay. Our egos need us to feel good about ourselves, and being associated with “losers” doesn’t feel good. So the natural inclination is to be curious about Adams’s systems idea. And now I’ve lead us to my next point…
I am confident that I am missing something here. Because while I do see a bunch of hypnotism being used in my last paragraph — wait a sec. That’s what it is.
Adams uses a technique called pacing and leading in his second paragraph. In order for you to agree with him, he must first start in a place where you both agree. You can reread the paragraph yourself and mentally note, “I disagree with this sentence, but I agree with what he says next.” That’s where the pacing starts. He then leads you to descriptions of how unpleasant it feels to be short of a goal. Once you subconsciously agree with what he wrote, it takes deliberate work to undo it.
My bet is that his training as a hypnotist was where he first learned about the last technique I’ll talk about.
There are a lot of professions which use framing. Lawyers use it to defend their clients. Politicians use it to direct the public’s attention. You could measure a salesman’s performance over the course of a deal based on whether his frames helped or hurt his chances. Well-respected psychologists have shown that it is has an irrational control over our decisions.
I have a simple way of explaining framing. Ask what your attention is being focused on, and with what feeling. There’s your frame.
In this case, Adams starts by framing systems users as being more successful on average. He then contrasts that success immediately with the feeling of failure when you don’t reach your goal. The frame is a vehicle for a sudden change in feeling. Your mind will remember that long after the words are gone.
Incidentally, this blog post is a system. I don’t have any particular goal, but the process is bound to have good results.
Now do me a favor and think of someone who would enjoy reading this post. 🙂